Close Relationships in Close Elections

Abstract

Close elections are rare, but most Americans have experienced a close election at least once in their lifetime. How does intense politicization in close elections affect our close relationships? Using four national egocentric network surveys during the 1992, 2000, 2008, and 2016 election cycles, I find that close elections are associated with a modest decrease in network isolation in Americans’ political discussion networks. While Americans are more politically engaged in close elections, they also are less likely to be exposed to political dissent and more likely to deactivate their kinship ties to discuss politics. I further investigate a potential mechanism, the extent of political advertising, and show that cross-cutting exposure is more likely to disappear in states with more political ads air. To examine the behavioral consequence of close elections within American families, I revisit large-scale cell phone location data during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2016. I find that Americans are less likely to travel following close elections, and that families comprised of members with strong, opposing political views are more likely to shorten their Thanksgiving dinner. These results illuminate a process in which politicization may “close off” strong-tied relationships in the aftermath of close elections.

Publication
Social Forces
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